Becoming A Leader: 4 Months In

Opening Minds And Opening Doors

People often ask me “how’s it going on the Future Leaders Programme?”, which is a question I find difficult to answer. The programme isn’t a training course, there are no text books, teachers or exams. So how do you mark how well you’re progressing? After all, there isn’t (and never will be) a “right answer” or “perfect leader”.

What we get out of the programme is very much determined by what we put into it. Whilst there are no text books, we do have a rich set of information that we gathered at the start of the programme. A compilation of anonymous feedback, an assessment of our leadership capabilities and the foundation skills that we learned in Les Fontaines. Working with our coaches, this information was used to help us identify areas that we wanted to focus on, which I decided were flexibility, niceness and inspiration.

In addition to our coaches, who are helping us to navigate and reflect on these areas, we also have each other. It is hugely comforting to know that there are others out there (albeit across the globe!) who are going through the same thing, perhaps trying something new, fumbling through, and even doubting themselves sometimes. Knowing this has given me the courage to give something a go when I perhaps otherwise would have backed away.

However, with all that said, and even with a fantastic support network, no one is going to make me more or less flexible, nice or inspirational. That is down to me alone. The programme has given me the information and the platform to get started, but I have to be the one to try it all out. This has meant that I am trying to be more mindful of these behaviours, even planning in advance for my day ahead about the situations that are going to require me to be flexible, less nice or inspirational. In other words, my mind has been opened to these behaviours, and I am trying to experiment with them. Just that little reminder and nudge is helping me a lot to make some changes.

The programme has also given me the platform to get involved with more leadership initiatives. Having received initial training in coaching during Les Fontaine, I became hooked. I have since been developing my coaching skills with some willing volunteers who thought they might benefit from some coaching support. This has become quite a common practice for a few class members and, as such, we now have the opportunity to become certified as part of a Coaching Network across Capgemini. Having broadened my network and my skills, many more doors are opening, and becoming a coach is just one.

Being Nice, Or Not

I appreciate that many of you might be reading this and thinking, “surely there is no such thing as being too nice”, but having reflected on a few situations that I have been in, I can assure you there is.

This isn’t quite the same as the adage of “being cruel to be kind”, it is much more subtle than that. For me, it tends to manifest in being overly apologetic or polite. Simple things, such as when asking someone to complete a piece of work, I can tend to litter the message with remarks such as “if you’ve got the time” or “if it’s not too much trouble” or “let me know”. You might think this is simply being polite, but having watched a video replay of myself (yes – welcome to #cflp18!) I have seen that it actually dilutes the importance of my message. Not only does it remove any sense of urgency, if there was a need for it, but it also leads to suggest that the work is optional – which it most certainly never is! As cringeworthy as it was to watch that video of myself, it has stuck in my head and acts as a constant reminder. I’m no longer suggestive, and more assertive. I’m also using the phrase “we” a lot more, which helps to give a sense that we’re in it together, and ending with “is there any help you need to get it done?”, which doesn’t remove the necessity, but still signals that I’m still there for support.

Another manifestation of my overt niceness can be when my opinion differs to the majority, I tend(ed) to back down and go along with everyone else, rather than risk a disagreement or risk being the “outsider”. I found myself in a situation like this recently. I had voiced my opinion, which then got countered by many other, more senior colleagues. My internal monologue still felt that my opinion had merit, and rather than keeping it to myself as I would have done before, I spoke out a second time. This might sound plain sailing to many of you, but as someone who likes to keep the peace, that small change felt mammoth. My heart was beating faster and blood had rushed to my cheeks.

It might sound small, but I think this is the change that I am most proud of. I no longer go home repeating all the things I wish I would have said at work, and I know that whilst not everyone will agree with me, at least they know what I stand for.

The Science Of Niceness And Sleep

As I mentioned in my last blog, I have been reading many more books about leadership and behaviours. Most of these books are routed in psychology or sociology, but the most recent book I read came from the biological and chemical sciences.

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker is a terrifying, convincing and evidence based book about our necessity for sleep. As someone who likes logic, and cause-and-effect explanations (#processconsultant), I really liked the scientific explanation behind what happens, chemically, when we sleep. Doing away with Freudian explanations for sleep, or simply because sleep feels nice, Walker explains the variety of ways that it is essential in order for us to simply function day to day. One of the ways sleep helps (or hinders) our daily behaviours is by its influence on our level of emotional tolerance, or, for the sake of this blog, our level of niceness.

At a very basic level, 2 parts of the brain are involved in the management of our emotions. The amygdala, which triggers emotions, and then the prefrontal cortex, which applies rational thought and decision making. After a good, full nights sleep, these 2 areas of the brain are perfectly in balance, helping us to feel emotions but also manage them too. After a poor nights sleep, the connection between these 2 areas is broken. We no longer have control over our emotions and hence we may become “snappy”. I’m not saying this gives us reason to blame our behaviours on lack of sleep – absolutely not. But it does present an interesting question – are you allowing yourself enough sleep to give you the best chance of being the best version of yourself?

Until next time, when hopefully everyone is getting their forty winks!

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